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Venezuela's Chavez Arrests US Ship Captain, Arms Smuggling Allegations

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Sunday, 09 September 2012 10:24

Jason Poblete

With less than 30 days until Venezuelan general elections, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has turned to distraction politics. According to various news accounts, a U.S. citizen has been detained for alleged arms smuggling.

The charges sound dubious. The articles do not state the type of weapons found aboard the ship; however, various news accounts state that just three rifles were found aboard the cargo vessel Ocean Atlas. The Ocean Atlas is a U.S.-flagged vessel (pictured) and is part of the Intermarine fleet based in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Detaining American citizens in the Western Hemisphere for political purpose is not new. In 2009 a U.S. government contractor, Alan Gross, was detained in by Cuba on alleged espionage charges. Gross remains in prison to this day serving a fifteen year prison sentence. Cuba likely is using Gross case to secure political concessions from the United States.

For example, Cuba wants U.S. sanctions eased as well as securing the release of five Cuban spies serving time in federal prison on espionage charges.  At the time of his arrest, Gross's lawyers, with the support of several Members of Congress, tried to negotiate Gross's release as well as defend him in the Cuban legal system. The media frenzy this case first generated was exactly what the Cuban government needed at that time.

Is Hugo Chavez borrowing a page from his mentor in Havana? Time will tell. The political situation in Venezuela is quite tenuous right now for Chavez. If one is to believe the polling data, Chavez could lose the upcoming elections. An American smuggling arms a few weeks before such a critical vote could mobilize his supporters and others. 

Securing the release of Ocean Atlas captain will not be easy. The U.S. Congress reconvenes next week and company officials may already be scrambling to secure guidance and support from key Congressional offices as well as the Obama Administration. For U.S. companies doing business in these countries, factoring in the local politics has always been a consideration in risk mitigation and compliance analyses. As governments start to weaken, as in the case of Cuba and Venezuela, even more so. 


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